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Guardians of the Galaxy

Longbox Graveyard #93

There’s a brand-spanking new Guardians of the Galaxy comic series shipping from Marvel today …

Guardians of the Galaxy #1

… and there’s a feature film on the way in 2014, set to feature my old pal Star-Lord.

Guardians of the Galaxy

And here is the FULL movie trailer!

You are forgiven for wondering how the heck this is happening. DC Comics still can’t get a Justice League movie on track and Marvel is bringing a B-team to the big screen? Actually, calling them a B-team is giving them all the best of it. The Guardians of the Galaxy are a tertiary property (on their best day), and I really can’t explain how they’ve been fast-tracked for stardom. I’ve enjoyed their recent comics series but this seems a gigantic risk.

But while I can’t explain the inner workings of Hollywood, I can write about something close to home — namely the Guardians of the Galaxy themselves!

No, I don’t mean these guys

The NEW Guardians of the Galaxy

I mean these guys!

Marvel Super-Heroes #18, Gene Colan

These are the original Guardians, circa 1969, as imagined by writer Arnold Drake and artist Gene Colan for the cover of Marvel Super-Heroes #18. From left-to-right we have Major Vance Astro (cryogenically-preserved spaceman of the 1980s), Charlie-27 (Jovian militiaman), Martinex (genetically-engineered inhabitant of Pluto), and the weapons-master Yondu, last survivor of Alpha Centauri IV!

Yes, the Guardians had been kicking around the Marvel Universe for decades before the Guardians of the Galaxy trademark was resurrected for the post-Annihilation series of the same name in 2008. The original Guardians were nomads of the spaceways, perpetual guest-stars and try-out book headliners that took decades to (sort of) break through and earn a book of their own.

They’re just the kind of obscure and loveable losers that I can’t resist here at Longbox Graveyard!

Marvel Super Heroes #18, Gene Colan and Arnold Drake

The team’s fast-paced origin story in Marvel Super-Heroes #18 doesn’t afford a chance to do much more than put names to faces. Earth and her colonies have come beneath the heel of the baleful Badoon, a race of remorseless, reptillian interstellar conquerers, and our four heroes are the last of their kind — genetically-engineered human colonists of the outer planets, indigenous aliens, or star-lost men from the past. When the story is complete, our heroes have come together and pledged to liberate a captive earth …

Marvel Super Heroes #18, Gene Colan and Arnold Drake

… and that might have been the end for this one-and-done science fiction superhero team, had not Tony Isabella and Steve Gerber conspired to resurrect them. A full five years passed before the Guardians next appeared, in Marvel Two-In-One #4 and #5. Written by Steve Gerber, these issues saw Captain America and the Thing transported into the future, where they met the Guardians and helped continue the fight to free the earth from the Badoon.

Marvel Two-In-One #5, Steve Gerber and Sal Buscema

It was an action-packed and frankly bizarre tale (though not bizarre in the usual Steve Gerber way — that would come later). What was most strange was that these Guardians were given a second chance at all. This kind of intellectual property dumpster-diving was more Roy Thomas’ line of work, who delighted in unearthing Golden Age treasures for Silver Age audiences. Interested as he was in socially-relevant superhero stories, it’s hard to understand what Steve Gerber saw in these intergalactic freedom fighters — yet there they were, in all their generic Sal Buscema glory, clobbering bad guys along with Ben Grimm in the pages of his team-up book.

Marvel Two-In-One #5, Sal Buscema and Steve Gerber

I bought that issue of Marvel Two-In-One off the rack in 1974 — I liked it at the time, and it even fared well in my recent re-read of the full run of Two-In-One. I think I responded to “Superheroes In Spaaaaaace!” and there was something cool about discovering these obscure characters. As a tender youth of twelve this was a mind-expanding moment for me, first-hand proof that the “Marvel Universe” consisted not just of Spider-Man swinging around Manhattan, but also a cosmos full of aliens and forgotten freedom fighters, with a future history our heroes may or may not be doomed to live out. I was also taken with the story of Major Vance Astro, who sacrificed his humanity to explore the stars, only to find out he’d been made obsolete before his voyage had scarcely begun.

Marvel Two-In-One #5, Steve Gerber and Sal Buscema

Gerber so liked the team that he used them again in Defenders #26-29, more firmly cementing them into the Marvel Universe, and doing a bit of clean-up work on the Guardians’ origin and backstory. After crashing the Guardians’ time-lost ship on Earth in Giant-Size Defenders #5, Gerber teamed the Guardians with Doctor Strange, Nighthawk, Valkyrie, and the Hulk to mostly put paid to the Badoon occupation of Earth. Along the way, he indulged in some characteristic Steve Gerber weirdness (casting the Hulk in a kill-crazy reality television show!), but he also fleshed out the Guardians mythos by showing us peculiar details of Badoon culture, and constructing an elaborate future history for the series, which included ozone depletion, bionics, world war, and even a Martian invasion (resisted by a guy named Killraven).

Defenders #26, Sal Buscema and Steve Gerber

That Defenders run is also notable for introducing Starhawk, a character I’m still trying to wrap my head around going on four decades later. Starhawk is an enigma, popping up unbidden, referring to himself as “The One Who Knows,” and winging off to his weirdly prosaic little house on the galactic prairie between adventures …

Defenders #29, Steve Gerber & Sal Buscema

… which was all well and good, but the Guardians themselves were still a reasonably unknown quantity at this point, and there seemed plenty of stories to tell about the original cast without introducing a mysterious new character. Starhawk would be even more front-and-center (literally!) in the Guardians solo series that kicked off in Marvel Premiere #3.

Marvel Presents #3

It took seven years, but thanks to Steve Gerber’s efforts, the Guardians of the Galaxy had finally earned a series of their own! But now that the Guardians had the stage to themselves, this pack of perpetual second bananas seemed a little lost. First, there was the distracting presence of the enigmatic Starhawk, who seemed to suck the air out of every scene, gazing into the distance and promising that in time all will be revealed while the rest of the Guardians (and at least one reader) wished he’d just get to the point. Second, Gerber decided that the Guardians’ war against the Badoon had run its course, and wrapped up our heroes’ raison d’etre the the final defeat of the Badoon in the first issue of their solo run. Once again, Starhawk was on hand with moralistic advice about how the defeated Badoon should be treated, courtesy of one of Gerber’s signature typed-text pages.

Marvel Presents #3, Steve Gerber & Al Milgrom

Gerber’s vision was for the Guardians of the Galaxy to start living up to their name, and to guard not just Earth, but the Galaxy, and so our heroes were packed aboard a starship and sent off to confront a mysterious being at the center of space. All well and good, but it wouldn’t be long before the series took a turn for the silly, first when that mysterious being turned out to be a giant space frog …

Marvel Presents #4

… and then when — with all the universe to choose from — Steve Gerber had the Guardians land on an alien asylum planet that just happened to be a weird replica of New York’s Times Square.

Marvel Presents #5, Steve Gerber & Al Milgrom

In this run of Guardians of the Galaxy we found out the hard way that the cosmic wonder of the Marvel Universe matters only so much as it is connected to our mundane lives here on Earth. Galactus can eat all the planets he likes — but it’s just backstory until he confronts the Fantastic Four over the fate our our planet. Thanos can destroy half the universe with a snap of his fingers, but what we really care about is what happened to Mary Jane Watson. In a fictional construct as interconnected as the Marvel Universe, you strike out on your own at your peril, and by putting our men of action on the bridge of a starship and having them fly off on an abstract adventure with one-off characters in places we’d never seen before, Gerber unfortunately delivered stories that provided the worst of all worlds.

Marvel Presents #6, Al Milgrom

If the plotting was a drag, Gerber did wring some personality from our heroes. Yondu got to be a noble savage, and he did tricks with his bow (always the same damn trick, but it was better than nothing). Martinex became more brainy and alien. All of our characters came to feel like outcasts and freaks as the last of their kind. Vance started to behave erratically, living in a shipboard room reconstructed from his memories as a twelve-year-old …

Marvel Presents #4, Steve Gerber & Al Milgrom

Gerber added a female Guardian, too, but the team just never seemed to jell in their own series — absent outsized personalities like Ben Grimm or the Hulk or Doctor Strange to play off of, the Guardians were revealed as a B-team of generic comic heroes without a cause.

The series went into rapid decline as the big energy frog storyline wrapped up. A Silver Surfer reprint was awkwardly shoe-horned into issue #8, and then Steve Gerber would transition off the book in favor of Roger Stern, who finally revealed Starhawk’s origin — a messy mash-up of alien prophecies and a vaguely incestuous body-sharing relationship between step-siblings that somehow involved a giant Hawkman robot.

Marvel Presents #10, Roger Stern & Al Milgrom

It was a mess, and so was the book by this point, so it was a bit of a relief when the series met its inevitable demise after issue #12.

I will admit to being a bit disappointed revisiting the Guardians after all these years. But the improbable tale of the Guardians of the Galaxy was far from over. They would next appear in Thor Annual #6 to kick off of one of the biggest Avengers events of the decade … but that is a tale for another time!

(And for those of you who soldiered to the end of this article looking for relevant information about the new Guardians of the Galaxy, check out this excellent scorecard at Comic Book Resources).

Al Milgrom, Marvel Presents #12

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About Paul O'Connor

Revelations and retro-reviews from a world where it is always 1978, published once a month or so at www.longboxgraveyard.com!

Posted on March 27, 2013, in Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 30 Comments.

  1. I loved the original Guardians (most of my experience with them comes from the pages of the Avengers) and the newer Guardians is one of the few modern Marvel comics I actually enjoyed. Granted, they are a C-list team, but I’ve always felt that if a movie is well done, that doesn’t matter. After all, look at Blade, probably a Z-list character. I don’t imagine that they will market this as a comic book movie, but rather a sci-fi movie, and most people who see it won’t even know it was based on a comic book.

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    • I’ve been impressed with the Guardians/Star Lord revamp. They aren’t the characters I knew but they’re perfectly entertaining in their own right. Certainly Rocket Raccoon and Groot are superior to anything in this original Guardians run. Older isn’t always better (my God, what has happened to me??)

      I am very much looking forward to the movie.

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  2. It would be cool if they’d reprint all of the Guardians stories, in chronological order.
    It is a bit disappointing to have our adventurers go across the galaxy, only to run into things so similar to what they’d experience on earth. What’s the point, then?
    I love the way Vance has “Origins of Marvel Comics” and “Son of Origins” on his bookshelf. Stan would be proud.

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  3. I thought the .1 issue Bendis put out last month was excellent. I’ll admit I’m a bit of a Marvel Cosmic neophyte, so the .1 did its job in giving me an introductory look at Star Lord in a way that drew me in and made me want to run out and grab issue #1 today. So good work all around.

    While I’m reading this new series, I look fwd to reading the older series on the Marvel U app, and of course a lot of the other cosmic series Paul has been tirelessly blogging about.

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    • I bought that .1 issue as well — probably the first new Marvel I’ve bought off the rack in twenty years. I thought it did a good job of rewriting Peter Quill’s origin to firmly wed him with the Marvel Universe and clean up/remove some of the rough edges. I miss that he wasn’t the quasi-homicidal prick that we saw back in Marvel Preview #4 but I recognize this is a minority view and I’m glad just to have Star Lord back from the dust bin of history. I did like Quill’s appearances in the various Annihilation series and the Guardians reboot — hopefully that spirit will continue into this new series, which I will get around to reading in a year or two!

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  4. Marvel did do two hardcover reprints that went from the original Marvel Superheroes origin through the end of their solo series. In addition, there’s two trade paperbacks that reprint everything though the Avengers and Ms. Marvel appearances. Look on Amazon or contact your local comic shop.

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    • Thanks, Jim!

      A couple of those Amazon links are embedded at the end of my review, which will allegedly generate fractions of a penny’s worth of credit for Longbox Graveyard if you use them to order, provided the stars are right and the product is in stock and I didn’t screw up the links somehow (and admittedly, the odds in favor of that trifecta are vanishingly slim).

      I am informed elsewhere that many of these original Guardians titles are available through Comixology (but curiously are not part of the Marvel Unlimited subscription service).

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  5. These guys got the fast track because the Annihilation books were some of Marvel’s most popular and well-received. Many of the readers had not gone back to the 70s incarnation, instead receiving it as entirely fresh work. It also featured Thanos, recently introduced at the end of the mega-huge Avengers movie. Marvel is building up these two teams for a giant cosmic team-up for the fate of the universe against the big purple meanie, just as they built up their individual heroes into the Avengers. They are really taking the long view on these franchises it seems.

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    • If Marvel can dive this deep into their back catalog and come up with a winning film property out of essentially nothing then it is a huge win for them and will count as a huge investor story, saying in effect that even their B- and C- characters are world class IP. I am quite looking forward to the movie and have learned not to bet against Marvel but it is still a big risk — a sprawling ensemble SF movie with unknown characters and a heavy reliance on effects to make talking animals work without seeming ridiculous.

      I normally isolate myself from superhero movie trailers — knowing that I will go see the film anyway, I prefer to see the movie fresh in the theater — but I will definitely be watching this Guardians teaser and trailer day one, because I am so curious about the look and tone of the picture.

      Still can’t really comprehend that I live in a world where the Guardians of the Galaxy get a movie, whether it be the old team or the new guys. Truly this is an era of geek plenty!

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      • Indeed! This column reminded me of Marvel Presents #8, the only Guardians book I ever had. Why was that book so awesome? Ohhh…. now I see. It was a reprint of Lee and Buscema on Silver Surfer!

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        • That Silver Surfer reprint was a real cheat. They added a little framing sequence to integrate it into the Guardians story but still … it was an ambush reprint, intended to deceive the reader. The cover made it look like a Surfer/Guardians team-up was on the way …

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  6. Paul:

    Nice overview of the Bronze Age Guardians. I was always quite partial to the characters, though I haven’t read most of their adventures since I was a kid. I did recently reread their debut in Marvel Super-Heroes #18 (it scored a B grade from me) and Marvel Presents #3 (which got an A-). On the collecting front, I searched forever for a high-grade copy of that Marvel Super-Heroes book. I finally scored a VF+ copy in Comic-Con International in 2010 and it’s one of my prized possessions.

    Enjoying your site. Keep up the great work!

    Cheers,
    Andrew
    Comics Bronze Age editor

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    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Andrew!

      If I was just reviewing the Guardians origin issue I’d likely rate it a B-minus, so we are pretty close. The story is the usual for Arnold Drake but I am a sucker for Gene Colan’s pencils.

      My dirty little secret is that my copy isn’t Marvel Super-Heroes but instead the reprint from Astonishing Tales #29, which can usually be had for quite a bit better price!

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  7. Loved the last Guardians series. It was like Warlock and the Infinity Watch using creatine every day. Abnett & Lanning pretty much single-handedly resurrected a huge swath of dead space in the Marvel Universe, starting with Annihilation.

    The new #1 (and .1) surpassed my expectations, and I think the reason why these books are being so well-received is that these characters are essentially tabula rasa. Sure, Star-Lord’s been around for decades, but he’s only been in about 20 issues of comics until Annihilation began. There hasn’t been any attempt to give any of these character real character-defining runs, which means the opportunity for some writer to “go in a new direction” and start retconning things (before a NEW writer retcons the retcons) hasn’t happened yet.

    Basically, I see what’s happening now with these characters as Claremont X-Men circa #110. We’ve seen these characters for a bit, and now its time to peel back the layers. Enjoy the ride.

    As for the originals, Paul, I love these posts of yours. It’s like Wikipedia minus the sterilization. My only introduction to those characters was through early 90s Marvel trading cards. I may have had the odd issue of the 90s series as well.

    I’m a little surprised they survived the test of time at all, base don their debut. Those character designs are TERRIBLE. You’ve basically got four monochrome, naked mannequins. One of them is jagged. Another has a bow and arrow. Could that have been any LESS creative?

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    • Drink every time I say the word “character.”

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    • It is puzzling, isn’t it? I don’t think there was any fan outcry for more Guardians at all … I think this really is a case where their reintroduction is entirely down to Steve Gerber (who also credits Tony Isabella) who wrote them into Marvel Two-In-One. Marvel likely would have gotten around to freshening their rights to the title sooner or later, but without Gerber it is possible that the Guardians would have remained forgotten, with none of these follow-on series or movies or etc. Truth really is stranger in this case.

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  8. I keep hoping that the upcoming movie will get Marvel to finally reprint the early Starlord material. There’s easily enough for an Essentials volume, especially given the longer length of the magazine stories.

    and getting off the subject a bit, when do we get the next Essentials volumes of Sub-mariner and/or Sgt. Fury? Both volumes would finally be getting to material that I’ve either not read or only read once a long, long time ago…

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    • I read all of Star-Lord’s pre-Marvel Universe appearances for my blog a couple weeks ago and they didn’t hold up very well. Aside from his origin story and the great Claremont/Byrne/Austin issue, the series was a hard read. With the revised origin published in Guardians of the Galaxy #0.1, the character’s origin has been ret-conned and now Marvel has little incentive to bring a competing version back into print.

      I have fallen off the Essentials train since tumbling to digital. Ultimately I couldn’t warm to the lack of color in the Essentials outside of titles like Tomb of Dracula. I do recognize that with Essentials you can sometimes see the art better than in color format, put page after page of black & white wears me out (particularly for superheroes).

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  9. what’s that you say? an obscure sci-fi superhero comic from the 70s written by Steve Gerber really isn’t that good when read as a whole, decades later? nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.

    loved the Guardians mostly because they were so obscure, only glimpsed in guest appearances and randomly acquired back issues. part of their charm, along with weird concepts, sexy flaming-haired aliens, and Star Wars-era space opera.

    Like

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